• Nathan Smith

LIVERPOOL: THE REAL REASON BEHIND THEIR POOR FORM ISN'T DOWN TO NO VAN DIJK



If you had said that Liverpool would be sat in sixth place, with there being a real chance that they will not get Champions League, most would have called you crazy.


However, that is the situation for the Premier League challengers who are coming off their fourth straight league defeat at Anfield, a place which has been a fortress for the Reds in the last few years.


But why is this, and how did it start?


Centre Back crisis


When Virgil Van Dijk was ruled out, it felt as if that was the worst it could get for Liverpool, but it was only just the beginning.


It seemed as if the centre back position was cursed, as Joe Gomez picked up a long-term injury on international duty, just as he was returning to form, and Joel Matip has struggled to stay fit and recently got himself a longer-term injury compared to the knocks he was getting.


With Liverpool’s three centre backs out injured, defensive midfielder Fabinho was called upon to take up one of the centre back roles, something he has done for Liverpool in the past, alongside youngsters Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips.


Williams, fresh off a spell in the National League North with Kidderminster, initially started well, impressing in Champions League games, while Phillips picked up the slack in the league games.


But as to be expected of young players, form started to dip and a particularly poor game against Manchester United saw Williams move down the pecking order, while Phillips was replaced by captain Jordan Henderson.


However, it feels like the centre back crisis has affected Liverpool in a completely different way then expected.


Lack of Tempo/Intensity


Fabinho offered a lot to the side in terms of transitional play when playing in that holding midfield role, with his ability to keep things ticking over, play through balls and his defensive capabilities standing out.


This is something Liverpool have struggled to replicate, having tried with Thiago and Gini Wijnaldum who both have immense quality, but lack the physical presence and defensive abilities of the Brazilian.


Jordan Henderson is the most like for like replacement there, but him moving to centre back took that option away and has left Liverpool lacking tempo in their midfield which was one of Henderson’s best attributes.


Liverpool’s lack of tempo and attacking intent has been one of the biggest issues this season, and one of the main reasons for that is the loss of their arguably two best midfielders.


Thiago is a completely different player to what Liverpool have had before and while he is clearly very talented, he has not fully adapted to the system and it seems Klopp is trying to adapt the system to him.


His ability to pick up sloppy yellow cards early in games means he must be careful, for a long period of the game and that limits him when it comes to his work rate.


He has certainly not been as bad as everyone makes him out to be but with him dictating the tempo in midfield, it is not going to be the same high energy side we are used to seeing.


Liverpool have struggled against low blocks this season, Burnley and Brighton both forcing Liverpool to hopelessly lump the ball into the box and hitting them on the break to steal all three points.


When teams set up that way last season, it didn’t matter because Liverpool always looked like they could get that one goal which would get them the victory.


However nowadays it is hard to see Liverpool scoring in most games, unless it is Mo Salah, who has been carrying the out of form Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane as of late.


Can Liverpool improve?


The first 75 minutes of the Leicester game, the RB Leipzig, West Ham and Spurs performances have shown us the Liverpool side we know and marvel at.


Competing with a brave intensity and real intent, that spark has not gone from the Liverpool team.


However, the clear lack of confidence within the squad means that we’ve seen more performances like the last 15 of the Leicester game, and the most recent performance from Liverpool against Everton.


It is unlikely that Klopp’s side will end up in the top four, but he must address the problems the Reds have faced or they could be without a place in Europe at all by the end of the season.

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